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Abdolah hopes the English translation of his "The House of the Mosque" will be accessible to Iranian youth.
At first, he tried to continue writing in Persian, but cut off from his homeland he found he could no longer function in his mother tongue.
“When I was writing in Persian, I felt tired, I felt sick. Maybe because I had no audience,” he recalled. “I had lost my power as a writer and I had lost my power as a man, as a husband, I was out of touch with life.”
Encouraged by a teacher at language school in the Netherlands, Abdolah tried his hand at writing short stories in Dutch. Eventually they began appearing in local newspapers and his reputation gradually spread until the release of "The House of the Mosque" in 2006, which went on to sell 300,000 copies in the Netherlands and has been translated into 27 languages.
For the first two-thirds of the book, Abdolah weaves a picture as intricate and rich as the Persian carpets sold by the family patriarch Aqa Jaan, the novel’s main character.
There are illicit affairs, moonlit trysts beneath the minarets, opium-smoking imams, dashing mountain poets and subversive sophisticates visiting from big-city Tehran. Everybody is opposed to the Shah and his American-backed regime, but politics is largely left in the background until the Islamic Revolution ushers in the new fundamentalist rule and Khalkhal, a surly imam who had once married into the family, begins to gain an ever more dominant and disastrous influence over the household and the whole city.
Abdolah hopes the appearance of the English edition will make his work more accessible to a younger Iranian audience who, he fears, have little knowledge of their country’s recent history.
"The English translation comes closer, comes very close to them and that's very important for me,” said Abdolah, who has a striking appearance with a shock of black hair that contrasts with his bushy white moustache. "I am writing this sorrow down on paper. … I am telling this story to give a balance back to the country.”
He is confident the new generation protesting against regime on the internet and on the streets of Tehran will eventually bring about change in Iran.
“There is a strong movement, but it takes time. They are on the good path. … They are correcting the mistakes that their parents have made. When we started in the 1970s part of us was pro-Washington and part of us was pro-Moscow, and we got Mecca. Now we have understood that we have to be ourselves.”